The Red Flags of Suicide
By: Shelly Qualtieri MA, BA
Today in the province of Alberta suicide is a major concern that has a significant impact on our society, our community, our families, friends, peers and colleagues.
Over the past two-weeks we have been hearing and reading the media reports of a substantial increase of suicides within the province of Alberta. The reports have stated that there is a staggering 30% jump in suicide rates in the first half of 2015. We do know that Alberta typically has one of the highest suicide rates across Canada; the reason for this is unknown. However; this recent reported increase in our Province is alarming and leads many Albertans to ask why the increase? How do we work towards preventing and decreasing the suicides in our Province?
We do know that suicide is something that many, many people think about across their lifetime. It has been recorded that the statistic is 1 / 20 individuals have thoughts of suicide at any one time. Research also shows that a serious life event or crisis can lead an individual to thoughts or behaviours of suicide; for example this could be a medical diagnosis, a divorce, anxiety, domestic violence, stress, or a job loss. Currently the media reports are looking for a rationale for the drastic 30% increase of suicides in our province. Reports have stated the increase is due to the mass oil patch layoffs, unemployment, the devastation of the floods Alberta experienced two years ago or they note it is too early to link this spike to Alberta’s bad economy. The truth of the matter is we really don't know what causes any one human being to make the choice to take their own life, but we do know that the impacts are devastating.
Suicide continues to carry a stigma, is not a topic that is often brought up in a casual conversation, and remains one that most of us fear. We know we must talk about suicide to prevent suicide but how do we do this? When do we start these conversations and who should we be having these conversations with? We often hear from the family or friends of someone who has died by suicide that they did not know the individual was even having thoughts about suicide. They often say upon reflection they did notice subtle changes they wished they could go back and address. They realized that looking back something was not the same with the person and that the conversation about suicide could have begun then.
So, what are some of the Red Flags we may see in our loved ones, our peers, neighbours, and colleagues? When we think about the Red Flags of suicide there are many, these changes may be subtle or drastic. Red Flags could be:
· Physical changes: Gained or lost weight, sleeping a great deal of the day or not sleeping at all, looking more unkempt than usual.
· Emotional changes: Feelings of sadness or depression, anger more easily, feelings of helplessness or hopelessness.
· Statements: “It is all going to be over soon”, “It is not worth it any longer”, “There is no point to this anymore”.
· Actions: Giving away possessions, engaging in high risk behaviours such as excessive use of drugs or alcohol, isolation, withdrawing from others.
(*This is not an all-inclusive list of the Red Flags an individual may display)
If we are noticing changes with those around us it is never too late to start the conversation about suicide. Let the individual know they are supported, loved, cared about and there are supports available to them. Opening the door to a conversation about suicide without judgement or stigma is the first step.
There are resources within our City and Province to support these people. If you or someone you know is in the moment of having a thought of suicide and you, or they, need support, please contact:
· The Calgary Distress Centre – 403.266.HELP (4357)
· Suicide Helpline – 1.800.SUICIDE
· The Centre For Suicide Prevention – 403.245.3900
The Province is currently looking at increasing the mental health budget for resources which is a great start. It would be a fabulous goal to work towards reducing Alberta’s suicide rates in addition to decreasing the stigma around this serious issue. The first step in this fight is breaking down the stigma of suicide and allowing those around us to ask for help and offering a helping hand when the topic arises. By opening our doors to the conversation of suicide, encouraging those around us to speak out if they are having suicidal thoughts, and working towards feeling brave enough to ask for help if we are the one having thoughts of suicide, reducing stigma and saving lives is achievable.